Gunman who was killed by Yellowstone rangers had planned a July 4 mass shooting, park reveals

Posted at 4:10 PM, Jul 10, 2024

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The warning from a woman in Yellowstone National Park came in just after midnight on July Fourth: She’d just been held at gunpoint by a man who said he planned to carry out a mass shooting — a random attack common in the U.S. these days but not in the Yellowstone region, let alone the park itself.

Rangers spent the next several hours trying to find the gunman before he showed up outside a dining area with 200 people inside. He shot a barrage of bullets with a semi-automatic rifle at a service entrance.

The rangers — including one who was wounded — shot back. Their rounds hit the attacker, Samson Lucas Bariah Fussner, 28, of Milton, Florida, who died at the scene in the busy Canyon Village tourist lodge area near the scenic Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

The previously unreleased details provided by park officials Tuesday revealed a harrowing situation that seemingly could have ended badly and raised new questions about the attacker’s intent and motivations.

Fussner’s Facebook page showed if anything pride about landing a concession job in Yellowstone, a typically seasonal gig that often involves cooking and serving food to the park’s 3 million summer visitors. Such jobs usually go to somewhat younger people in their early 20s; often they are college students who journey into the U.S. from a variety of other countries.

Fussner posted a photo of his Xanterra Parks and Resorts badge and photos of him in snowy Yellowstone scenes from mid-May, at the onset of summer tourist season. There are no posts hinting at anger or any other motivation for the shooting.

And while Yellowstone often draws headlines for sometimes deadly mishaps involving wildlife and the park’s famous hot springs, shootings — despite the park’s millions of visitors and high rate of gun ownership in the region — are exceedingly rare. No attack like this one has happened in the park in recent memory.

The wounded ranger was released from a hospital but not identified. The shooting led authorities to close off Canyon Lodge, a complex of hotel rooms, cabins and dining facilities, until Wednesday.

The facilities are run by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the main concessionaire for such facilities in Yellowstone.

Soon after midnight July 4, law enforcement rangers heard that Fussner had held a woman against her will with a gun at a residence in Canyon Village, a lodging and dining area. The woman reported that Fussner threatened to kill her and others, including carrying out a mass shooting at Independence Day events outside the park, park officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Rangers found Fussner’s vehicle but not him. More than 20 law enforcement rangers, including a park special response team, looked for Fussner while organizing to protect park visitors and employees.

Around 8 a.m. Thursday, law enforcement rangers encountered Fussner as he approached and fired on a service entrance to the Canyon Lodge dining facility. Several of the rangers shot at him, and he died at the scene, according to the statement.

No other injuries were reported.

“Thanks to the heroic actions of our law enforcement rangers, many lives were saved here last Thursday,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in the statement.

The FBI was investigating. Per National Park Service policy, law enforcement rangers involved in a shooting are placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated, the statement said.

Park officials did not immediately comment when asked if any Yellowstone law enforcement rangers had been placed on leave, and how much weaponry Fussner had possessed.